House Dem leader: Cantor's walkout gives Democrats political advantage

A leading House Democrat predicted this week that Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) withdrawal from bipartisan budget talks will be a political boon for the Democrats.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), vice chairman of the Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee, said Cantor's move creates a public impression that the Republicans have no interest in negotiating a deal to raise the debt ceiling – a move many economists warn is necessary to stabilize global markets.

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"It's definitely a benefit to Democrats when the other side says, 'It's just too tough to keep going,' and they quit," Cuellar told The Hill. "No matter if you don't like the rules, you can't just walk away. We have to keep working."

Cantor on Thursday created a buzz when he withdrew from the closed-door budget talks, which are being led by Vice President Biden, to protest the Democrats' insistence on eliminating some tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals as part of a deal.

Cantor said he'll remain on the sidelines until President Obama tackles "the tax issue."

"Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue," Cantor said in a statement.

Cantor's announcement led the negotiators to cancel a meeting scheduled for later Thursday.

Democrats were quick to charge that it wasn't truly the tax provisions that prompted Cantor's exit, but his desire to shift the political burden onto House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) should the Republicans be forced to accept certain revenue increases as part of a debt-ceiling deal.

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Boehner is under intense pressure from his right flank – including Cantor and a number of Tea Party backed freshmen – to oppose any provision resembling a tax hike, even the elimination of tax subsidies to businesses making record profits. Democrats, however, have said they won't accept a deficit reduction strategy that relies on spending cuts without any revenue raisers.

"Any agreement to deal with our deficit must combine smart spending reductions with targeted revenue increases, closing loopholes and ending tax giveaways that reward special interests," Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Friday in a statement reacting to Cantor's exit. "The Republican leadership needs to take a breath, come back to the table, and work with us to find a solution."

Boehner on Friday called on President Obama to intervene to jump-start the stalled negotiations, but warned that any package including tax increases is dead on arrival in the lower chamber.

"The president and his party may want a debt limit increase that includes tax hikes, but such a proposal cannot pass the House," Boehner said in a statement.

On Monday, Obama and Biden will meet separately with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to discuss the contours of a deficit-reduction package, the White House announced Friday.

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On Friday, McConnell said it was a lack of leadership on Obama's part that stalled negotiations.

"Where in the world has President Obama been for the last month?" McConnell asked on the Senate floor.

McConnell said he's hopeful Obama will use the talks "to finally explain what it is that he’s prepared to do to solve our nation’s fiscal crisis."

Cuellar – a member of the conservative-leaning Blue Dogs – is predicting that any final deal will likely be a center-of-the-road package unpopular with both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

"The far left and the far right are going to say, 'No,'" Cuellar said. "It's going to be some folks in the middle who come in and work it out."

The Treasury Department has set an Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt limit before the government would default.